Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Lent, day 12: psalm 137 - lament and keeping it real

In the current Lent discussion group being run in 'a river runs through it' parish, we were thinking of that very Lenten theme of lament yesterday.  Within the course of conversation, Psalm 137 came up:
By the rivers of Babylon
   there we sat down and there we wept   
when we remembered Zion. 
On the willows there   
we hung up our harps. 
For there our captors asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,   
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ 
How could we sing the Lord’s song
   in a foreign land? 
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
   let my right hand wither! 
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
   if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
   above my highest joy. 
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
   the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
   Down to its foundations!’ 
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
   Happy shall they be who pay you back
   what you have done to us! 
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
   and dash them against the rock!

It's a hard text.
A text of defeat, exile, alienation -
of despair.
A text of lament.

There's a raw honesty to the psalm:
from wondering how to sing the Lord's song in a strange land,
to an admonition to self not to forget home,
through to its shocking, angry conclusion.

There, amidst the hanging gardens, the exiles hang their harps.
They will not sing: they cannot.
How do they make sense of all that has happened?
Are they not the people of the covenant - the people of the promise?
Where is God?
They find words within the questions of their grief
and those words emerge as lament.
Those words are beautiful and terrible
and express a whole range of human emotion.

And perhaps, here is the comfort of the psalms:
to find that it is completely in keeping with the faith tradition
to express not only the nicey-nice stuff of life,
but to express the rage,
the hard things.
This psalm, even with that violent last verse,
teaches us to be real before God,
who knows what it is we're thinking and feeling anyway.

Lament is a cathartic thing:
crying out in anger and despair at God is a helpful way of letting go,
of working through the process of grief.
A way of singing the Lord's song in both safe harbours
and strange lands.
A way that enables us to be real with God in the good and in the bad -
because, in the end, God calls us as we are, and where we are.

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